Tonight as I made my way to meet up with some folks at a nearby coffee shop the song of which this post is titled came on to the radio. I have always been a fan of Jethro Tull, judge me as you will, and I have always found within their lyrics some sort of philosophical handle or idea toward which I gravitate. Tonight was no exception.
I am part of a group currently reading through Love Wins by Rob Bell. Most assuredly the book has ruffled a few feathers amongst the orthodox Christians out there because of Bell’s intense desire to ask questions and because of the answers at which he arrives. Say what you will, what I really appreciate about the book is the fact that it asks questions, it brings up for discussion those things which seem to have been long forgotten.
This is not foreign to Christianity. The history of Christendom is full of people who asked questions and dared to purport a position in opposition to an accepted belief. For every picture of God Christians paint there is another hanging right next to it in the gallery. Every affirmation comes with a negation and every position with its counterposition. After all, the Nicene Creed did not just appear for no reason. For as long as there has been those who purport differing ideas there have been those who stand in opposition to it. Arius is not unique in history because he stood in opposition but because of how he did it, rather, because of what he stood for. It was his position the Nicene Creed attacks and then affirms the contrary. But again, this is not some strange phenomena, it has happened time and again.
Ask two people in America what “the story” or “the point” of Christianity is and you will get two different answers. Sure there could be agreement, but even among those who agree there are differences. For every affirmation of a position there seems to be a negation. It seems as though Christians straddle the line between orthodoxy and heresy and actually uphold both positions quite well sometimes.
Take for example the bible, long held to be the inspired inerrant word of God. For many this book is just that, a book. You can touch it, hold it, pull it off your shelf, dust it off, open it up, read it, and then put it back. This is a relatively new experience for Christians because of the fact that until the 16th Century bibles were not written in the language of the common person. If you go even further back, 3oo years existed when the church didnt even have a codified New Testament. Some books were affirmed, others were questionable. Even those that were the authors are in question. The text itself can even be questioned. And somehow the church has survived. Now it seems Christians base everything off of this book which didn’t even exist for a good portion of the early days and for most of history was not accessible to most people and at best is a collection of works that may or may not have been written by those who claim it if that text is really even the text originally written. How then can that book be the basis when for a majority of those who went before the book did not posess the same authoritative nature? As John Caputo would say, the archive has become the arche, the icon the idol. Any position contrary to that orthodox one of inerrancy is heresy right? Yet there is so much evidence to the contrary.
So I come face to face with this paradox. On the one hand you have a long held position or belief, traditional orthodoxy. On the other hand though, you have dissention and differing ideas. You have interpretation winning the day. Not just about the bible but about Christianity itself. Can all the pictures we paint be true? How do we navigate between the two seemingly contradictory assertions that Christians have an orthodox position and continually question that position? This is why that Jethro Tull song was so apropos for tonight because…
he who made kittens put snakes in the grass
let’s bungle in the jungle, well thats alright by me
i’m a tiger when I want love and a snake when we disagree
So maybe then the way I am approaching things needs to change. Am I open to questions about both? To real attacks that penetrate the surface of both my orthodoxy and my deconstructive nature? Am I willing to hold my beliefs so loosely that I can straddle the line even closer than before. Am I willing to stand in that place? To embrace the paradox and ambiguity amidst the certainty.
Maybe the point is not what I believe but how I believe it.